Discussion Was it acceptable for officers to shoot their own men if they retreated?

major bill

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#1
On September 16 1777 General Peter Muhenberg wrote in his orderly book the following: In the future whenever the Men are formed for action...the Brigarders and officers Commanding Regiments are also to post some good officers in the Rear, to keep Men in Order, and if in Time of Action, any man who is not wounded whether he has arms or not, turns his back to the Enemy and Attempts to run away, or retreat before Orders are given for it, those Officers are instantly to put him to death. The Man does not deserve to live who basely flies, breaks his Solemn engagements and betrays his Country.

So during the American Revolution it was acceptable for officers to instantly put to death solders who fled in battle. Was this still acceptable during the Civil War? If, so more than a few Civil War soldiers could have suffered this fate.

We hear of officers during the Civil War who threatened to shoot soldiers if they ran, but how many did so? Was it even legal to do so? Should officers have the right to immediately kill soldiers who ran in battle?

I am guessing officers shooting or killing fleeing soldiers was rare during the Civil War.
 

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jackt62

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#2
I don't know of specific instances where fleeing soldiers were actually shot by their officers during the ACW. I understand that this was supposedly one of the functions of the "file closers," generally non-commissioned officers who were placed in the rear of a battle line to keep the ranks in order. In any case, the use of so-called "barrier troops" to halt the retreat of any fleeing troops from a front line, was a practice particularly used by the Soviet Red Army from the Russian Revolution to WWII. Needless to say, I do not agree that any American army should have engaged in such practice.
 
#3
I don't know of specific instances where fleeing soldiers were actually shot by their officers during the ACW. I understand that this was supposedly one of the functions of the "file closers," generally non-commissioned officers who were placed in the rear of a battle line to keep the ranks in order. In any case, the use of so-called "barrier troops" to halt the retreat of any fleeing troops from a front line, was a practice particularly used by the Soviet Red Army from the Russian Revolution to WWII. Needless to say, I do not agree that any American army should have engaged in such practice.
Petersburg, the Crater? IIRC, I believe they were bayoneted.
 

major bill

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#4
Officers seem to assume they can legally do so, but I so not recall seeing an Army Order or Regulation that authorized this.
 
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#6
During bridging operations at Fredericksburg when the engineers came under intense fire Brigade commander Woodbury was surprised at the reaction.
In an interesting side note there is some evidence that Gen. Woodbury actually shot one of the engineers that refused to go back out onto the bridge with his revolver. Although he does not state exactly that he did so his report includes the statement:
"...the pontoniers under my command would not continue until actually shot down."
His report continues with the statement,
"Perhaps I was unreasonable."

The understatement of the century!!!
 

Ole Miss

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#8
Acceptable or Actual? Not sure it would have been a legal order to shoot those who's nerves failed them but fairly sure it happened. Not judging just accepting.
Regards
David
 
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#11
I can't remember where I read this, and it may be a faux memory, but I recall reading that on the Channel Coast, the Germans intended to close the paths through the minefields that were to the rear of the beach defenders after the the alarm was called and the beach defenses were manned. This makes sound defensive sense anyways, but also would serve to deter fleeing/retreating even not the intended purpose.

Maybe someone else has heard of this.
 

zburkett

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#13
I can't remember where I read this, and it may be a faux memory, but I recall reading that on the Channel Coast, the Germans intended to close the paths through the minefields that were to the rear of the beach defenders after the the alarm was called and the beach defenses were manned. This makes sound defensive sense anyways, but also would serve to deter fleeing/retreating even not the intended purpose.

Maybe someone else has heard of this.

Didn't Houston have Def Smith destroy the bridge that was to only retreat at San Jacinto?
 

wbull1

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#14
I don't have a reference so this may be made up but wasn't Stonewall Jackson described as willing to shoot a man at the drop a hat and willing to drop the hat himself?
 

WJC

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#19
On September 16 1777 General Peter Muhenberg wrote in his orderly book the following: In the future whenever the Men are formed for action...the Brigarders and officers Commanding Regiments are also to post some good officers in the Rear, to keep Men in Order, and if in Time of Action, any man who is not wounded whether he has arms or not, turns his back to the Enemy and Attempts to run away, or retreat before Orders are given for it, those Officers are instantly to put him to death. The Man does not deserve to live who basely flies, breaks his Solemn engagements and betrays his Country.

So during the American Revolution it was acceptable for officers to instantly put to death solders who fled in battle. Was this still acceptable during the Civil War? If, so more than a few Civil War soldiers could have suffered this fate.

We hear of officers during the Civil War who threatened to shoot soldiers if they ran, but how many did so? Was it even legal to do so? Should officers have the right to immediately kill soldiers who ran in battle?

I am guessing officers shooting or killing fleeing soldiers was rare during the Civil War.
Legalities aside, my understanding is it has been acceptable in past wars.
 
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#20
On September 16 1777 General Peter Muhenberg wrote in his orderly book the following: In the future whenever the Men are formed for action...the Brigarders and officers Commanding Regiments are also to post some good officers in the Rear, to keep Men in Order, and if in Time of Action, any man who is not wounded whether he has arms or not, turns his back to the Enemy and Attempts to run away, or retreat before Orders are given for it, those Officers are instantly to put him to death. The Man does not deserve to live who basely flies, breaks his Solemn engagements and betrays his Country.

So during the American Revolution it was acceptable for officers to instantly put to death solders who fled in battle. Was this still acceptable during the Civil War? If, so more than a few Civil War soldiers could have suffered this fate.

We hear of officers during the Civil War who threatened to shoot soldiers if they ran, but how many did so? Was it even legal to do so? Should officers have the right to immediately kill soldiers who ran in battle?

I am guessing officers shooting or killing fleeing soldiers was rare during the Civil War.
I met a former Major in the Free Polish Army who witnessed US MPs place machine guns behind US Army soldiers who were in the brig and told to rush the German positions at Monte Casino or get shot in the back. So yeah no problem at least back in the day with shooting fleeing soldiers. Of course said soldiers can shoot back so life gets real interesting.
Leftyhunter
 



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